gypsies, roma, kosovo


Houses burning in Mitrovica

What was going on in Kosovo at the time? In July 1999, Dzemail Zeinulah, a Rom from Kosovska Mitrovica, told his story to the Association of the Romany of Croatia: 

I guess youíve heard of the Mahala in Kosovska Mitrovica. Thatís our community. That was our community. If only I could return... But whatís there to return to, burnt-out ruins? They set fire to my house. And... what a beautiful house it was. Iíd been building it all my life. Worked for a company, but in the afternoons Ė brick by brick... And the flowers around the house... a garden... everything to oneís heartís content. 

Okay, not only mine. There were much nicer houses in the Mahala. Many with two floors. We (the Romany) had our own stores, a barbershop, a hairdresser, and even two bakeries. Just imagine how all that has been plundered and burnt. 

There we stood on the other side of the Ibar River and saw it all with our own eyes; clouds of smoke rising, all our sweat burning up in flames... more than one thousand five hundred homes. We stood there silent and still, more than six thousand of us Romanies watching our lives expire. The smell of freshly baked bread was replaced with the stench of scorched ruins. We kept on looking - tears streaming down our cheeks, sounds of bawling babies here and there....  

Weíre a funny people, a damned people: we donít want war, but war wants us. 

And itís always been that way. And how nicely the Albanians are repaying us: We sent our children to their schools, we spoke Albanian, and many Romanies registered themselves as Albanians, since many donít know how to speak Romany. That was convenient for them because they could show the world how many Albanians there are and how Kosovo is theirs. How nicely weíve been repaid: now Kosovo is theirs, and only theirs.  

NATO came and then came KLA. They all have guns, machine guns, pistols... and knives in their hands. They know: the Romanies have no arms. They burst into our Mahala, from house to house. They tell us: Get out or be slaughtered.  

What will I (now) live from? I lost my pension, my house, and after hundreds and hundreds of years Iím to search for a homeland. They didnít even let us take the smallest little things with us, just the clothes we were wearing. Who fled, fled. Only our dervish headman Aziz Azemi stayed. Heís a cripple, so how could he flee? And heís a religious person and as they say, one of the same faith as theirs. So Aziz stayed on in his Ďtekkeí (religious shrine) and they set fire to the tekkes and our Aziz was inside. We heard that everybody who didnít flee was killed. 

As for us, we scattered anywhere we could. A couple thousand ended up at 
Zvecara in Kosovo where they were placed in a camp together with the Serbs. 

Blace camp (Macedonia)

We went on foot in the direction of Novi Pazar [a town in southwest 
Serbia]. Nothing to carry, but the voyage is tedious. My wife, two sons, a 
daughter-in-law and me. 

In Novi Pazar they placed us in some kind of a camp. There are Romanies 
here from everywhere in Kosovo - from Pristina, Kosovo Polje, Tavnik, 
Podujevo, even from Djakova. There are thousands of us in the camp. 
There are very many Serbs and Montenegrins, and then there are Turks, 
Croats. We got acquainted with a woman. She was Slovenian. All alone. She 
just stares hard at nothing and keeps on repeating: ĎOh God, is there 
justice on this Earth? What wrong have we done? What wrong have we done?í 

In the camp there is no food, no medications... The Serbs are starving together with all of us. There are no clothes. Thereís no place to wash, and all that we have is what is on us.   

I see: evil is spreading! The world doesnít want to know about us. Yet I 
know how it was before. We all had satellite antennas. We saw how the world 
welcomed the Albanian refugees in Macedonia and in Albania. The world cried 
over them. Those same tears donít exist for us - for us, who didnít flee 
on command to get the world to have pity and to be on our side. 

We donít exist... That I see. There is no returning to Kosovo, because the 
Kosovars are none the Montenegrins, Serbs, Turks... they (Albanians) are 
the only Kosovars... And thatís that! 

Foreign politicians say NATO will form a militia made up of Albanians, the 
KLA members. The very same ones who plundered us, burned our homes and 
drove us away will protect us. From whom? I see, evil is spreading and so 
we decide on Sarajevo. We stayed there with some kinfolk for a short time. 
We see things are pretty tough here, too. Our kinfolk paid our way to 
Croatia, which we crossed over into illegally. 

A sacked Rom house (by Theo Fründt)

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